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Escaping from Fundamentalism – James Barr

May 24, 2015

EFFGiven that the most ‘successful’ churches tend towards fundamentalism and that I wasn’t really aware that evangelicals existed that weren’t also fundamentalists, I found this book informative and pastorally caring for those within that tradition. It suggests that fundamentalism is a bondage to ‘the law’ and is the opposite of reformation principles and appeals to a particular type of person. He shows how one doesn’t need biblical criticism to arrive at his position because the bible contradicts itself internally. He argues that as Jesus used parables, so God inspired scripture as a sort of parable — literal truth or otherwise does not matter. He argues a right understanding of prophecy, looks at the formulation of the canon and of textual errors. He shows how orthodoxy is not a static concept and how fundamentalism has never been ‘orthodox’ and urges a valuation of liberal Protestantism and of Catholicism, finally arguing that evangelicals have a lot to give the church in terms of persona relationship with God, but in terms of a view of scripture which is selective and wrong.


It is a fact that many of those who enter into the active life of Christian faith enter it through the gateway of fundamentalism. ……’Nevertheless, .it is equally true that many of those who do so come to feel after some time that it is a deeply inadequate form of the Christian religion. The finding of a way out, however, is no easy undertaking. The transition to a different understanding of the Bible, of faith and of the church can be a time of deep uncertainty and often-severe personal suffering.

Fundamentalism begins when people begin to say that the doctrinal and practical authority of scripture is necessarily tied to its infallibility and in particular its historical inerrancy, when they maintain that its doctrinal and practical authority will stand up only if it is in general without error, and this means in particular only if it is without error in its apparently historical remarks”

“…accept as factual and correct and theologically valid everything that is to be found within the pages of this volume? The result would then be that one had either to accept everything as the Bible tells it–creation in seven days, changing of water into wine, the 969 years that Methuselah lived–or else admit that one could not be Christian.”

Here again we find the assumption of an objectivist intellectualist attitude: there is no need to quote dogma, no need to indulge in heated religious controversy. One simply and calmly states the evidence from outside the Bible that shows how unnecessary and how completely wrong the entire series of critical questionings has been. … Indeed, it is a necessity of the conservative argument from recent ancient near eastern evidences that it makes at least a pretence of impartiality. … And, finally, one other point … probably none of the writers of conservative evangelical literature on the Bible who are actual professional biblical scholars can be found to be so completely negative towards the main trend in biblical scholarship as are those like Kitchen who look on the subject from outside. In view of all that has been said, this should not be surprising.

“Christian faith is not faith in the Bible, not primarily: it is faith in Christ as the one through whom one comes to God, and faith that through the Bible we meet him, he communicates with us. The Bible is thus the instrument of faith and the expression of faith, rather than the object of faith”

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From → Biblical

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